Last week I wrote about macro self-care – doing something “big” for yourself as a way to recharge. These things are important, but also a little harder to do, especially for Spoonies/Warriors. The other side of macro self-care is micro self-care. These are little moments you can spread throughout your day in order to get that oh-so-important self-care in. Micro self-care can take as little as a few seconds, up to several minutes. Not only is micro self-care easier (and less expensive) to engage in, it can be done on various energy levels (so important for anyone with chronic pain and illness, as you all know) and it has more benefits than macro because of the frequency of it.
If you Google “micro self-care” you will literally see hundreds of different ideas for what you can do. Here are a few of my favourites:
Meditation or deep breathing (or grounding, and so on). You don’t need to sit and meditation for 20+ minutes. In fact to start it’s actually better to just do 3-5 minutes. And it’s something you can find time to do at any point in your day.
Gratitude Practice – say out loud or write down 3-5 things you’re grateful for (it’s been shown to boost happiness)
Journal – you don’t have to write down every thought or everything that’s happened. When I journal I often reflect on something specific (i.e., use a prompt) or look at my physical, intellectual, spiritual and/or emotional bodies and see if there’s anything to reflect on, limiting beliefs I can forgive myself for and/or something I’d like to work on today.
Stretch – stretching is something most of us can do more of as it’s really good for our bodies. Take a few minutes to do a few stretches is a great way to care for your body.
Do some sort of quick exercise – walk around the block (my favourite) or even just marching in place or do 5 minutes of some sort of strengths-based chair workout.
Read – set a timer for 5 minutes and read (or just read a poem, or a set a page goal for a book – 5-10 pages for example).
Go outside – even if it’s chilly out, spending a few minutes just being out in the fresh air is great for our bodies and minds.
Drinks a glass of water or tea – we often under hydrate so water is always the best option. Alternatively I always feel good drinking some of my favourite tea.
Make your bed – this seems silly and simple and yet I (who often doesn’t make my bed) feel so good when I make it (and also feel better when I get into a made bed at night… actually I’m going to make my bed now).
Make plans with a friend – this doesn’t mean you actually have to go out with this friend at this moment but even just making the plans via text or phone call can make us feel good and give us something to look forward to.
These are just some ideas to get you started with micro self-care. There are many more that I do. Some of these daily, many of these within a day, and some of these less often. I know that the more I do, the better I feel (mentally and physically). What are your favourite micro self-care practices?
We all struggle with self-compassion. I’ve written about it before on this blog, talked about it on the podcast, written guests posts on other blogs about it. I do self-compassion work all the time with my clients. And most importantly, I do self-compassion work all the time with myself. Self-compassion has been shown to lessen chronic pain, improve resilience, and keep us motivated – all of which are important when you have a chronic health condition. It can also help when experiencing trauma symptoms, anxiety, and depression. Being honest, while my pain is much, much less than it used to be, self-compassion has and continues to help me deal with it. More recently I’ve noticed the great effect it has for me during trauma triggers and anxiety. Self-compassion is also hard – at first – eventually it becomes a lot easier and more natural to do (though there is always effort to be put in). When I notice (using my mindfulness skills), I’m able to pause and ask myself what would be helpful now. More often than not I end up doing a self-compassion practice, which helps me regulate, centre, and continue on with my day.
There are tons of different self-compassion practices you can do. I do highly recommend the Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. I bought it, used in on myself, and now use the exercises with my clients. Beyond the ones from the workbook, I have some other practices that I quite enjoy, use often, and really help. Without further ado, here are my 4 favourite self-compassion practices.
Lovingkindness Meditation – this is actually a really old Buddhist practice that is used secularly now. It involves generating feelings of warmth and kindness towards ourselves and others (typically someone we care about, someone we feel neutral about, a difficult person, and everyone). We then repeat lovingkindness phrases, sending them first to ourselves, and then to each of the others. The reason I like this practice is because it is easier to send compassion to other people, and we still get to practice giving it to ourselves. Typical lovingkindness phrases include: May I be happy. May I be safe. My I be healthy. May I be at peace. But can include any phrases that resonate best with you. Try it here.
Kind Hand – this is a practice I actually learned from a counselling textbook (ACT Made Simple) and find I use it a lot with myself because it’s such an easy gesture and quick way to offer myself compassion. (My clients tend to like it too). Basically you imagine your hand filling with the same kindness and care you offer others, and then place it on the part of your body you feel the most pain (emotional or physical) and let the kindness flow into it and then all around your body. Try it here.
Heart Opening Yoga – this is working with the heart chakra, which helps with self-compassion and self-love. I’ve done this both as a vinyasa class and a yin class (I personally prefer the yin class, especially when I’m feeling anxious/activated because it’s more grounding). This usually includes a lot of chest openers, expansions and back bends to help us make room in the physical, emotional and spiritual bodies for compassion. I personally recommend Yoga with Kassandra on YouTube for some great practices (I’ll be launching my own as soon as I finish my Yoga Teacher Training).
Compassionate letter writing or journalling – if you’re open to writing and/or like journalling, this can be a very effective practice. My former therapist had me do this once and I did find it helped (and of course, I’ve had my own clients do this as well). It can be quite difficult if you’re not used to giving yourself compassion, so I actually recommend trying any of the above 3 practices first. The formula for the letter is pretty simple: -mindfully write what happened – being open, curious, and nonjudgmental about your experience, thoughts and feelings (who, what, when, where, maybe why). -write some words connecting yourself to common humanity – we all experience pain, hurt, emotions, etc. and telling ourselves something like, “everyone feels this way sometimes” (etc) can help us remember that we are not alone. -write something kind to yourself – imagine what you would say to a friend who was struggling. What kinds words would you offer? Just write those down, offering them to yourself. Try it here.
Self-compassion is a powerful and useful practice. The more I integrate it into my life, the easier my life becomes. And of course I want the same for all of you, so that you can keep making the most of it!
Aesop’s Fable: The Wind and the Sun The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said, “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak around him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.
“Kindness effects more than severity.” This is the moral of the fable. How does this apply to chronic illness, chronic pain, health and mental health more generally? So many of us have harsh, relentless inner critics. The voice in our heads that tells us we didn’t do a good enough job, or we aren’t good enough or smart enough, etc. In terms of pain and illness it may tell us we are being punished or we can’t have a good life, that our life is over and ruined. Our mind thinks it’s helping us and protecting us when it does this, but like the Wind in Aesop’s fable, all this does is demotivate us. It makes us struggle more and more against the difficulties in our lives. Vast amounts of research show that struggling makes it worse – yes, even symptoms of pain and illness are worse with struggle (struggle can include avoidance and distraction).
The alternative is kindness. You may recall my fairly recent post called “Why Aren’t We Kinder To Ourselves?” where I explain why this all happens. When we are kind to ourselves we are actually more motivated to make our life better. We struggle less and are more accepting and open to our experiences. This isn’t necessarily an easy change to make. After so long of the Wind of our minds doing its thing, we need to learn to respond like the Sun. Maybe it’s offering kind words. Maybe it’s doing a self-compassion journal at the end of every day. Maybe it’s doing compassionate meditations, like the one below. There are many ways to cultivate the kindness of the Sun toward ourselves and it will also make our symptoms – both physical and mental health – a lot better. And by the way, I use this all on myself as well.
The same goes if we are motivating others. Have you ever tried to tell your partner or children to do something in a harsh and demanding way, like the Wind? What was the result? Probably not great, and even if you got what you wanted, you may have inadvertently hurt the relationship. What if you responded with kindness, like the Sun? It’s like the result was what you wanted and you may have even improved the relationship. Just some things to consider.
So this week, see if you can be more like the Sun to yourself when you’re struggling with the difficult sensations, emotions, and thoughts that come up. This is all in service of making the most it.